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Korean Air Flight 858

Korean Air Flight 858
A Qantas Boeing 707, similar to the Korean Air Boeing 707-3B5C (registered HL7406) that was destroyed in the Korean Air Flight 858 bombing.
Location The Andaman Sea
Date 29 November 1987
2.05 pm (KST)
Target Korean Air Boeing 707-3B5C
Attack type
Bombing, state terrorism
Deaths 115 (all)[1]
Perpetrators Kim Hyon-Hui and Kim Seung-il, acting on behalf of Kim Jong-Il and the North Korean government

Korean Air Flight 858 was a scheduled international passenger flight between Baghdad, Iraq and Seoul, South Korea. On 29 November 1987, the aircraft flying that route exploded in mid-air upon the detonation of a bomb planted inside an overhead storage bin in the airplane's passenger cabin by North Korean agents.

The two agents, acting upon orders from the North Korean government, planted the device in an overhead storage bin before disembarking from the aircraft during the first stop-over in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. While the aircraft was flying over the Andaman Sea to its second stop-over in Bangkok, Thailand, the bomb detonated and destroyed the Korean Air Boeing 707-3B5C. Everyone on board the aircraft, 104 passengers and 11 crew members, most of whom were South Koreans, were killed. The attack occurred 34 years after the Korean Armistice Agreement that ended the hostilities of the Korean War on 27 July 1953.

The two bombers were traced to Bahrain, where they both took ampules of cyanide hidden in cigarettes when they realised they were about to be taken into custody. The male of the pair died, but the female, Kim Hyon Hui, survived and later confessed to the bombing. She was sentenced to death after being put on trial for the attack, but was later pardoned by the President of South Korea, Roh Tae-woo, because it was deemed that she had been brainwashed in North Korea. Kim's testimony implicated Kim Jong-il, who at that time was the future leader of North Korea, as the person ultimately responsible for the incident. The United States Department of State specifically refers to the bombing of KAL 858 as a "terrorist act" and, until 2008, listed North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Since the attack, diplomatic relations between North Korea and South Korea have not significantly improved, although some progress has been made in the form of two Inter-Korean Summits. Kim later released a book, The Tears of My Soul, in which she recalled being trained in an espionage school run by the North Korean Army, and being told personally by Kim Jong-il to carry out the attack. She was branded a traitor by the DPRK, after seeing South Korea, and becoming a critic of North Korea. Kim now resides in exile, and under constant tight security, fearing that the North Korean government wants to kill her.[2] "Being a culprit I do have a sense of agony with which I must fight," she said at a press conference in 1990. "In that sense I must still be a prisoner or a captive—of a sense of guilt."[3]


  • History 1
  • Investigation 2
  • Aftermath 3
    • North Korea 3.1
    • Kim Hyon Hui 3.2
    • Continuing tensions 3.3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


On 12 November 1987, the two North Korean agents traveled from Austrian Airlines for flights which would take them from Vienna to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, then on to Baghdad, Abu Dhabi, and finally Bahrain.[4] They also purchased tickets from Abu Dhabi to Rome, Italy, for use in escaping after planting the bomb on the KAL flight.[4]

On 27 November, two guidance officers who had arrived in Yugoslavia by train from Vienna gave them the time bomb, a Panasonic transistor radio made in Japan, which contained explosives, a detonator, and a bottle of liquid explosive intended to intensify the blast, disguised as a liquor bottle.[5][6] The next day, they left Belgrade for Saddam International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on an Iraqi Airways flight.[5] At the airport, they waited three hours and 30 minutes for the arrival of KAL 858 – the target of their operation – which took off at around 11:30 pm[5] The two bombers planted the improvised explosive device above their seats, 7B and 7C, and disembarked the aircraft at Abu Dhabi International Airport.[5]

On the second leg of the flight, from Abu Dhabi to Thailand, KAL 858 was carrying 104 passengers and 11 crew members.[1] At around 2:05 pm Korea Standard Time (KST),[5] nine hours after the bomb was planted and towards the end of the flight, the bomb detonated and the aircraft exploded over the Andaman Sea (), killing all 115 on board.[7] The pilot transmitted his final radio message shortly before the explosion: "We expect to arrive in Bangkok on time. Time and location normal."[5] 113 of the people aboard were South Korean nationals, along with an Indian national and a Lebanese national.[8] Many of the 113 South Korean nationals were young workers who were returning to their home country after working for several years in the construction industry in the Middle East.[8] A South Korean diplomat, who worked at the embassy in Baghdad, and his wife, were also aboard the flight,[8] though it is not known if they were the prime targets of the attack.[9] Wreckage from the flight washed up on a Thai beach.[10] The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were not located.[9]

After the attack, the bombers attempted to fly from Abu Dhabi to

  • The Los Angeles Times, writing about the bombing in The Origins of the Korean WarBruce Cumings, author of

External links

  1. ^ a b Criminal Occurrence description at the Aviation Safety Network
  2. ^ Newshour, BBC, 23 April 2013, 20:00.
  3. ^ a b "KAL Bomber Tells Agony, Stints on Buying Dresses".  
  4. ^ a b c d United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2791. S/PV.2791 page 11. 16 February 1988. Retrieved 16 October 2010
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2791. S/PV.2791 page 12. 16 February 1988. Retrieved 16 November 2007
  6. ^ a b "115 Died in Nov. 29 Crash N. Korea Agent Confesses, Says She Put Bomb on Jet".  
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Bombing of Korean Air Flight 858". X-ray Screener. Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2791. S/PV.2791 page 6. 16 February 1988. Retrieved 16 October 2010
  9. ^ a b c d "Seoul Pardons North Korean in Bombing of Airliner Killing 115".  
  10. ^ "Thais Report Finding Korean Jet Wreckage". Los Angeles Times. 30 November 1987. 
  11. ^ "The Mystery of Flight 858".  
  12. ^ "South Korean cemetery keeps Cold War alive". Reuters. 10 September 2008. Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2791. S/PV.2791 page 10. 16 February 1988. Retrieved 16 November 2007
  14. ^ a b c French, Paul (2007). North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula: A Modern History. Zed Books. p. 244.  
  15. ^ Maass, Peter. "Woman Says She Sabotaged Plane on Orders from N. Korean Leader".   15 January 1988 Retrieved 6 January 2010
  16. ^ "Country Reports on Terrorism 2004" (PDF). State Department. April 2005.  Retrieved 16 October 2010
  17. ^ Kempster, Norman (21 January 1988). "U.S. Ends Thaw With N. Korea, Cites Terrorism".  
  18. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2791. S/PV.2791 16 February 1988. Retrieved 25 November 2007
  19. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2792. S/PV.2792 17 February 1988. Retrieved 25 November 2007
  20. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report 3627. S/PV/3627 page 8. Mr. Park Republic of Korea 31 January 1996 at 15:30. Retrieved 25 November 2007
  21. ^ "Obituary: Kim Jong-il".  
  22. ^ a b c "North Korea leader accused of terrorism". BBC News. 1 February 2001. Retrieved 17 October 2010. 
  23. ^ "'"North Korean leader Kim Jong-il dies 'of heart attack.  
  24. ^  
  25. ^ "MAYUMI VIRGIN TERRORIST". Complete Index to World Film. Retrieved 8 June 2012. 
  26. ^ a b c Buerk, Roland (20 July 2010). "Former N Korea spy in Japan to tackle abductee issue".  
  27. ^ a b Howard, Keith (29 June 2002). "Analysis: Korea's unresolved conflict".  
  28. ^ "Korean leaders in historic talks".  
  29. ^ a b "Korean leaders issue peace call".  


Similar incidents
North Korea
External images
prior to the photograph of
Image of Kim Hyon Hui, one of the two North Korean agents responsible for planting the bomb, in 2009
Panasonic transistor radio c. 1987, likely similar to the model used to conceal the bomb

See also

Tensions between North Korea and South Korea have not subsided since the signing of the armistice in 1953, and no formal peace treaty permanently ending the conflict has been signed.[27] In 2000, however, both countries held the first Inter-Korean Summit, in which the leaders of both countries signed a Joint Declaration, stating that they would hold a second summit in 2007. Furthermore, both countries were involved in militarily and ministerial discussions in Pyongyang, Seoul and Jeju Island of that year. On 2 October 2007, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun walked across the Korean Demilitarized Zone in travelling to Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong-il.[28] Both leaders reaffirmed the spirit of the 2000 Joint Declaration and had discussions on various issues related to realizing the advancement of South-North relations, peace on the Korean Peninsula, common prosperity of the Korean people, and the reunification of Korea. On 4 October 2007, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed the peace declaration.[29] The document called for international talks to replace the armistice which ended the Korean War with a permanent peace treaty.[29]

A South Korean checkpoint at the Korean Demilitarized Zone in August 2005. Tensions between North Korea and South Korea have not improved since the signing of the Korean War armistice in 1953.[27]

Continuing tensions

In 2010, Kim visited Japan, where she met the families of Japanese people abducted by North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s who were forced to teach North Korean spies to disguise themselves as Japanese—some of whom, it was reported, may have trained Kim herself.[26] The Japanese government waived immigration rules in order for the visit to take place, since Kim is regarded as a criminal in the country for her use of the false passport. The Japanese press, however, criticized the visit, for which security was tight over fears that she might be attacked.[26] Kim arrived in the country on a private jet chartered by the Japanese government, and was ushered into a car shielded by large umbrellas. During the visit, she stayed in a holiday home owned by Yukio Hatoyama, then-Prime Minister of Japan.[26] Kim today resides in an undisclosed location and remains under constant protection for fear of reprisals, from either victims' families or the North Korean government, which has described her as a traitor to their cause.[7]

In 1993, William Morrow and Company published The Tears of My Soul, Kim's account of how she was trained as a North Korean espionage agent and carried out the bombing of KAL 858. In a gesture of contrition for her crime, she donated all of the proceeds from this book to the families of the victims of KAL 858.[24] The book details her early training and life in China, Macao, and across Europe, carrying out the bombing, her consequent trial, reprieve, and integration into South Korea. In the book, Kim states that Kim Jong-il masterminded the bombing, and gave her the order to carry out the attack.[7] It is also believed that Kim Jong-il masterminded the Rangoon bombing of 1983, in which North Korea attempted to assassinate then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan.[7] Her story has also been turned into a motion picture, Mayumi, directed by Shin Sang-ok in 1990.[25]

Kim Hyon Hui

Kim Jong-il became the leader of North Korea in 1994, succeeding his father.[21] In 2001, right-wing activists and relatives of the victims killed in the attack demanded that Kim Jong-il be arrested for terrorism offences when he visited Seoul later in the year.[22] Two petitions were filed against him, with the activists and relatives stating that there was strong evidence—namely Kim's testimony—to suggest he was ultimately responsible for the bombing. They also called for him to make a public apology for the incident and formally compensate the victims' families.[22] The leader of a right-wing South Korean group, lawyer Lee Chul-sung, said, "Kim Jong-il must be arrested and punished if he comes to Seoul without admitting his criminal acts and offering an apology and compensation."[22] Kim Jong-il was not arrested, however. He died in December 2011, and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un.[23]

The United States State Department specifically refers to the bombing of KAL 858 as a "terrorist act" and, until 2008, listed North Korea as a Designated state-sponsored terrorism[16] based on the results of the South Korean investigation. Charles E. Redman, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, said in January 1988 that the incident was an "act of mass murder," adding that the administration had "concluded that the evidence of North Korean culpability is compelling. We call on all nations to condemn North Korea for this terrorist action."[17] The action was discussed at length in at least two United Nations Security Council meetings where the allegations and evidence was aired by all sides,[18][19] but no resolution was passed.[20] North Korea continues to deny involvement in the attack on KAL 858, saying that the incident was a "fabrication" by South Korea and other countries.[7][9]

Kim Hyon Hui's testimony implicated Kim Jong-il, the son of North Korean President Kim Il-sung, to be ultimately responsible for the bombing.[14]

North Korea


In January 1988, Kim announced at a press conference held by the Kim Jong-il, the son of North Korean President Kim Il-sung, who had wanted to destabilize the South Korean government, disrupt its upcoming 1988 parliamentary elections, and frighten international teams from attending the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul later that year.[14] "It is natural that I should be punished and killed a hundred times for my sin," she said.[6] Writing in The Washington Post on 15 January 1988, journalist Peter Maass stated that it was not clear to him if Kim was coerced in her remarks or was motivated by remorse for her actions.[15] Kim was subsequently sentenced to execution for the bombing of KAL 858, but she was later pardoned by the President of South Korea, Roh Tae-woo.[9] "The persons who ought to be on trial here are the leaders of North Korea," he said. "This child is as much a victim of this evil regime as the passengers aboard KAL 858."[7]

The escape route, she said, was to be from Abu Dhabi via Amman to Rome, but the pair were diverted to Bahrain due to visa complications.[5] She added that she had been travelling undercover for three years preparing for the attack.[7] Kim told investigators that when she was sixteen, she was chosen by the Workers' Party of Korea and trained in a number of languages.[7] Three years later, she was educated at a secret and elite espionage school run by the North Korean Army, where she was trained to kill with her hands and feet and how to use rifles and grenades.[7] Training at the school involved enduring several years of gruelling physical and psychological conditioning. In 1987, aged 25, Kim was ordered to detonate a bomb aboard a South Korean jetliner, an attack that she was told would reunify her divided country forever.[7]

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, [13] and said that she had been "exploited as a tool for North Korean terrorist activities", and made a detailed and voluntary confession.[13]

In January 1988, Kim said at a press conference that the Government of North Korea ordered the attack to frighten teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics.[14]

According to testimony at a United Nations Security Council meeting, on 15 December 1987, Kim was transferred to Seoul, South Korea, where she recovered from the poison and, initially, said she was a Chinese orphan who grew up in Japan, and said that she was not connected to the attack.[7][13] Authorities grew more suspicious when, while being questioned in Bahrain, she attacked a police officer and attempted to grab his firearm, before being apprehended.[7] At the hearing, the main evidence against Kim was the cigarettes, which, analysis showed, were the type used by a number of other North Korean agents apprehended in South Korea.[7][13]


[12].Cemetery for North Korean and Chinese Soldiers The body of Kim Sung-il was sent to South Korea and subsequently buried in the [7][11], survived.Kim Hyon Hui Kim Sung-il was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead, but the female, 25-year-old [7] Realising that they were about to be taken into custody, they both attempted suicide by ingesting cyanide hidden inside cigarettes.[5]

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